Candidates differ on how to tackle illegal immigration
Twice in the last dozen years, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of comprehensive immigration system reform bills.
Twice, the House never voted on its own comprehensive bill or on the Senate bills.
A fix to the problem of illegal immigration remains elusive.
President Donald Trump favors building a wall on the Mexican border and has cracked down severely on illegal immigration, but has yet to propose his own comprehensive plan. A one-page memo his administration sent to congressional Republicans in January proposes a wall, a 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for about 1.8 million illegal immigrants, allowing immigrants to bring with them only spouses and minor children and replacing the visa lottery system with one that chooses immigrants whose arrival suits the national interest.
The Congress that takes office in January will inherit the quandary, and that includes whoever voters elect
as Pennsylvania’s next U.S. senator and 8th Congressional District representative in the Nov. 6 election.
In the 8th district, Republican John Chrin, Barrett Twp., Monroe County, hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Moosic Democrat. In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, a Scranton Democrat, faces challenges from U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Hazleton Republican, Neal Taylor Gale, a Green party candidate from Abington Twp., Montgomery County, and Dale R. Kerns Jr., a Libertarian from Ridley Twp., Delaware County.
Most estimates of illegal immigrants in the U.S. have ranged between 11 million and 13 million, but a recent Yale University study found the number could be double and may be as high as 29 million.
The most recent serious effort to fix the immigration system happened in the Senate in 2013. The Senate bill, titled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, would have set aside $46.3 billion. It would have doubled the number of border agents to more than 38,000; installed at least 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican border; increased mobile surveillance; hired more judges and staff to deal with border crossers; boosted enforcement against people who overstay temporary visas; implemented an electronic immigration status verification system known as e-verify for employers; and implemented an electronic visa exit system (fingerprinting) at all ports and airports.
Existing illegal immigrants would remain in limbo until all the agents, fencing and the electronic verification and exit systems are in place, and the Department of Homeland Security certifies the border as secure.
Under the bill, “dreamers,” who arrived illegally as children with their parents, could apply for citizenship as soon as they earn green cards.
Illegal immigrants would have to register to become provisional immigrants to begin a path of at least 13 years to citizenship that includes generally uninterrupted employment, no felony convictions, paid up taxes and payment of a $1,000 penalty. They could not receive Medicaid, food stamps and other federal benefits.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would have saved $1 trillion over 20 years.
The Senate passed it June 27, 2013, by a vote of 68-32 with Democrats, including Casey, and 14 Republicans supporting it. Like a 2006 Senate bill, the House never acted on it.
Casey called the 2013 Senate bill “the best set of border security proposals that anyone’s ever seen” and much better than Trump’s proposal.
“We should get back to something very close to what we did in 2013,” Casey said.
“Unfortunately, the prevailing point of view of the Republican Party is both simple, inhumane and insulting: deport 11 million people.,” he said. “That’s all they talk about. They talk about deporting 11 million and building a wall. It’s not serious. It would not be effective.”
Barletta, who opposed the Senate bill mainly because of its pathway to citizenship, prefers securing the border first and talking citizenship later.
Barletta favors building a wall on the Mexican and Canadian borders where feasible with electronic and physical surveillance covering the rest; implementing mandatory e-verify and the visa exit system; a new guest-worker program for farm laborers; limiting immigration to spouses and immediate family members; and offering visas to immigrants with skills to fill jobs that don’t have enough Americans to fill them. Dreamers could stay if they meet certain requirements, he said.
Mandatory e-verify would require employers to check immigration status and discourage them from hiring illegal immigrants, who would return to their home countries, unable to find jobs here, Barletta said.
Kerns said the nation should ease immigration rules. He called building a border wall “just rhetoric” that illegal immigrants will defeat anyway. He favors welcoming existing, law-abiding illegal immigrants and thinks 13 years is too long for someone to become a citizen.
“We need to allow good people to emigrate here and we need to allow people to contribute to our communities and to our societies, and not have such harsh barriers in place,” he said.
Gale said building a wall is “a bad idea” and “a political ploy” that will waste money because people who want to get into the country will find a way.
“I don’t think we want to be walling ourselves off from the rest of the world,” he said.
He favors immigration regulation, but wants a more welcoming immigration policy because the nation was built by immigrants.
He said he thinks the electronic verification systems sound reasonable, and existing illegal immigrants should have a path to citizenship.
“They’re here; they’re part of us already,” he said. “They’re Americans and they should become American citizens.”
The annual salary for a senator is $174,000; the term is six years.
8th Congressional District
Like Barletta, Chrin favors securing the borders first and opposes any federal support for sanctuary cities. A sanctuary city refuses to cooperate with federal authorities seeking illegal immigrants.
Chrin said he had not read the Senate bill, but said securing the southern border, airports and ports should be a top priority.
Chrin, whose wife, Maria, is a native of Honduras, said a border wall ultimately could save money by keeping out immigrants who commit crimes and receive federal benefits, which costs governments money.
“We have a payback on that wall,” he said. “If someone’s in this country illegally, and they’ve committed a crime, it’s wrong that you’re going to continue to protect them.”
He wants a bill that’s fair to immigrants who enter legally. He did not rule out supporting something along the lines of the 13-year citizenship process in the Senate bill.
“That would, from a fairness perspective, seem fair, because it doesn’t jump them to the front of the line,” he said. “If it’s not jumping people to the front of the line, that it truly is something that they have to go through and go through the process that anybody else would, maybe even a little bit longer, but get them paying taxes, get them into the system.”
Cartwright said he wants comprehensive immigration reform too and remains open to a bill similar to the 2013 Senate bill.
“But, we need to secure the borders. We need to make taxpayers out of those living in the shadows in this country,” he said. “We know they’re not here sight-seeing. They’re here for the work, and they’re doing jobs nobody else wants to do like migrant farm work.”
He wants illegal immigrants to pay penalties as part of any legalization process and wants a system that deals with people who overstay their visas.
Cartwright said he has no problem with building “walls or stronger fences or whatever barriers you want to talk about in certain places where they make sense.”
“But, I don’t think mass deportation is what we’re after here,” he said. “First of all, for the humanitarian reasons. But also ... if we were to deport 11 (million) or 12 million souls from our shores, that would make such a hit on our national economy.”
The nation’s gross domestic product could drop by 2.6 percent if all illegal immigrants are deported, City University of New York researchers found in 2017.
“I think we can get to a grown-up solution, but we have to get members of Congress who aren’t talking past each other,” he said.
The annual salary for a congressman is $174,000; the term is two years.